The most famous and controversial documentary-maker in the world is back on full throttle. He is still his usual highly manipulative, inaccurate, idealistic and romantic self, but has he has also grown and matured in many ways.
This time American director Michael Moore “invades” nine foreign countries and claims the best aspects of their living so that they can be incorporated into the United States. He goes to eight European countries and Tunisia.
In Italy, he investigates how lax working hours and long holidays increase productivity; in France, he embraces a healthy diet at school; in Portugal, he finds out that the decriminalisation of drugs has reduced drug usage; in Slovenia, he praises the education system that’s free for all, even American students; in Germany, he investigates how workers are involved in the company’s decision-making; in Norway, he envies a criminal system focused on rehabilitation instead of punishment; in Finland, he compliments an education regime with short hours, no homework and outstanding results; in Iceland, he examines how women’s rights have helped to catapult development in the country; and in Tunisia he explores the positive impact of abortion, first implemented in 1973, in the modernisation of the nation.
Moore utilises the same devices as in his earlier film: a collage of cartoons, film extracts and interviews conducted by the director himself. His primary school didactics still are pervasive, and his empiricism is highly questionable. At one point, when illustrating the amount of tax that Europeans and Americans pay, he shows a chart with no numbers attached. Such manipulative antics, in a way, legitimise the flawed and misleading campaign conducted by Moore’s biggest enemies, the American Republican party. You cannot expose lies with twisted and iffy facts and figures.
Still, Where to Invade Next is a highly effective, extremely funny and entertaining movie. Most importantly, it serves a dual purpose. Firstly, it educates uneducated Americans about the enormous shortcomings of their country. Secondly, it allows foreign audiences to reconcile with the United States by telling them that Americans too can recognise their failings.
A particularly useful fact revealed in the film: drug laws in the United States where passed at times of civil rights. According to Moore, this was a stealthy way of denying Black Americans the vote, because drug users with a criminal record permanently lose their right to vote in many American States of the Deep South, and it is mostly young Black Americans who commit these offences. With less Blacks vote, these states normally vote white and conservative, keeping the Republicans in power. He also shows that prison labour is a modern type of slavery, as prisoners earn close to nothing. Michael Moore is far more effective at exposing racism than Spike Lee.
Michael Moore’s film is also a true celebration of female achievements. He exposes how an unprecedented women’s strike in 1975 ground Iceland to a halt and changed the history of the world forever. The movie successfully delves with women power, unlike the pseudo-feminist Chi-Raq (by Spike Lee, also presented at the Berlin Film Festival this week).
Above all, Where to Invade Next is a celebration of the achievements of the European welfare state, and a denunciation of the failure of the American establishment to look after its own citizens.
Moore is more mature in his latest film. He shields himself from criticism by saying “every country has its problems, but I am here to pick the flowers, not the weeds”. He also gave up the highly vexing and melodramatic antics of confronting the enemy himself, such as when he knocks at the door of the president of the National Rifle Association in Fahrenheit 911 (2004) and leaves the picture of a girl who was murdered with such weapon.
There is nothing wrong with “picking the flowers” instead of “the weeds”. The problem with Where to Invade Next is that Moore dyes and rearranges some flowers so much that they are hardly recognisable in their local environment. For example, he fails to discuss that drug trafficking is still a crime in Portugal, and there is a huge challenge in distinguishing traffickers from users. And he portrays Tunisia as a very liberal nation and a champion of women’s rights. The Tunisian film Fatma (Khaled Ghorbal, 2001) reveals that, in reality, the country is very oppressive towards its females. In the film, a well-off woman loses her husband and sees her life collapse because simply because her spouse found out that she was violated as a child. Society shuns the rape victim instead of supporting her, the film reveals.
Michael Moore does, at least, try to address some of the problems in foreign countries. For example, he reminds the viewer of Germany’s dark past, and of Iceland’s financial meltdown and their consequences. He then reveals how these countries learnt from their mistakes, and how the United States could do the same.
Despite its shortcomings, Michael Moore’s film is a very urgent one. The screening at the Berlin Film Festival opened with a video of Michael Moore in his New York flat apologising that he was not able to travel to the event because he is still recovering from pneumonia, and his doctor forbid him to fly. There is little doubt that Moore wanted to be in Berlin for the occasion. He reveals that he was in the German capital in 1989 during the day the wall came down, and he witnessed the watershed event firsthand. He claims that he had a big epiphany then, realising that sudden change is possible, and labeling himself as “an optimist”.
In the video, Moore expresses profound respect and admiration for the Germans for welcoming the Syrian refugees into their country. This may sound naive, as the racist Pegida are out on streets and the right-wing German media are constant slamming “sex abusers” of Cologne, but – again – Michael Moore is an optimistic.
The film closes with a very powerful reflection on the American dream. Moore ponders: “it looks like the whole world is living the American dream, except us [Americans]”. He goes on to say that many of the ideals being implemented and lived across Europe where originally American values, which Americans themselves have now poisoned and corrupted.
It is impossible to dismiss the importance of the United States in the world, and many positive values imbued in the American constitution and the American dream. Likewise with Michael Moore, it is impossible to deny his importance to world cinema, despite his foolish and misleading shenanigans.
Where To Invade Next premiered in Europe at the 66th Berlin Film Festival this week. It is running out-of-competition because Festival does not allow films that have been shown elsewhere to take the much coveted Berlin Golden Bear home, and the film has already been screened around North America. Otherwise, it would have large chances of winning the competition. Michael Moore won Cannes in 2004 for Fahrenheit 911, dealing with the Iraq Invasion. It would make sense for the Berlin Film Festival to make a statement about refugees and the threat of Donald Trump by awarding Michael Moore latest film, if it was eligible to the prize.
DMovies was in loco at the Berlinale.
Watch the film trailer below: